Battle lines are being drawn after an attempt to scrap a controversial class of pesticides blamed for bee deaths fell flat. The European Commission proposed banning the use of neonicotinoids on crops such as oilseed rape, sunflower and maize after a report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggested they put bees at risk. However, a small majority of member states voted against it, with Britain abstaining.

The result has sparked fury in some quarters-Defra’s website was inundated by some 80,000 ‘bee-mails’ from a global campaign-but the Secretary of State Owen Paterson says he will not be rushed on a decision. ‘Bee health is extremely important, but decisions must be based on sound scientific evidence, and rushing this through could have serious unintended consequences both for bees and for food production,’ says a spokesman. ‘We are not opposing the EC’s proposals.

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We are finalising studies that will give us the evidence on which to base a proper decision, but bas we do not have the evidence yet, it is impossible for us to vote either way.’ Dr David Aston, chairman of the British Beekeepers’ Association, says his organisation ‘has yet to see any evidence of harm being caused by the insecticides to honeybees in the UK’, and neonicotinoids manufacturer Bayer CropScience’s Dr Julian Little maintains the real threat is the varroa mite. However, the Soil Association describes the vote as ‘a terrible day for bees’, and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust says it remains ‘exceedingly concerned’. The EC is to appeal against the decision.

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